Let’s give a damn about our coal miners

This marks the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia that led to the deaths of 29 miners. This mine, operated by a subsidiary of Massey Energy, had been cited for repeated safety violations prior to the tragedy.

As reported by Erica Peterson for West Virginia Public Broadcasting (link here):

When the Upper Big Branch Mine exploded last April 5, the deaths of 29 men who were in that underground mine unleashed a flurry of mine safety reporting.

It turned out the mine, which is operated by a Massey Energy subsidiary, had been cited for numerous violations. In fact, the Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued more citations for the most serious violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine than any other mine in the country during the previous year. Despite all this, the mine was still operational.

Watch the video

I recently had the privilege of listening to a keynote speech by United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts, delivered to attendees of the New York Public Employees Federation (PEF) health and safety conference. PEF has posted the full speech to YouTube, and I’ve pasted the video of Roberts’s closing above.

Especially if, like me, your work environment is relatively comfortable and safe from deadly risks, please spend the 8+ minutes to witness the passion and intellect of one of America’s great labor leaders. Yup, some of it is in-your-face stuff, but it comes from the heart of someone who knows what it’s like to lose family members and friends to mining tragedies that might’ve been averted by more caring management.

During his speech, Roberts recounted the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was asked by the press how we can protect coal miners from harm. She replied there are only two ways to protect coal miners and all workers: legislation and unionization.

Prof. Lofaso on mine safety

Professor Anne Marie Lofaso of the West Virginia University College of Law is writing about just that. In her law review essay, “What We Owe Our Coal Miners” (abstract and article link here), she asks: What do citizens of a “just” society owe workers, such as coal miners, who daily risk their lives for our collective comfort?

Her words channel those of Eleanor Roosevelt, albeit in somewhat more academic prose: The law should set a minimum floor for miners’ safety and health, and union advocacy should empower workers to raise that floor.

Sounds pretty good to me.

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